Aiken City Council approves $15.7M Hitchcock Woods preservation project

·2 min read

Jun. 29—The Aiken City Council on Monday night awarded the Hitchcock Woods stormwater project to Thalle Construction, a North Carolina-based contractor with expertise in environmental endeavors.

Thalle Construction was the low bidder, at $15.4 million. After review, the company's pitch was endorsed by staff and McCormick Taylor, a civil engineering firm consulted by the city.

"They have completed similar projects within the southeast area of the United States for municipal, state, federal" and other clients, a senior manager at McCormick Taylor wrote in a recent letter to City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh. Thalle Construction is a member of the Tully Group, one of the nation's largest privately held construction firms.

The contractor's pitch — $15.4 million — is roughly $3 million more than earlier estimates; documents show the cost once totaled $12.2 million. The project is now anticipated to cost $15.7 million, including contingencies, according to Bedenbaugh.

Aiken will apply $1.75 million of its federal coronavirus relief allocation to the Hitchcock Woods project. In total, the city is slated to receive $4.3 million in relief money, a facet of the American Rescue Plan.

The federal funds can be used to respond to the now-dwindling pandemic by offsetting economic losses, supporting public health expenditures and investing in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

The long-awaited project aims to better protect Hitchcock Woods — the largest privately owned urban forest in the U.S. — from ruinous amounts of stormwater, which for years have gashed the preserve and caused serious sedimentation issues.

"In the absence of any significant stormwater management alternatives, combined with the city of Aiken's growth since 1950, the sheer volume and velocity of stormwater runoff being directed and discharged into the woods has grown to a devastating level," McCormick Taylor's website reads.

The Hitchcock Woods Foundation Board of Trustees has pinned stormwater runoff as the greatest threat to the woods. City Council member Kay Biermann Brohl on Monday expressed confidence in the project and the management plan, generally.

"I think this will succeed," Brohl said, "because so much has gone into it, to vet it, and make sure that it is what we really need to have here."

Work on the Hitchcock Woods stormwater project is expected to begin in fiscal year 2021-22.

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